So You Want To E-Pub Your Novel?

You’ve finished writing your novel, your baby, your joy, your passion, and you’re considering self-publishing as an e-book. Why not, with nearly everyone you know toting around a Kindle or Nook or planning to get one? It’s awfully tempting to tap into that market, get your book out faster to your eager readers, and maintain more creative and financial control than with traditional publishing. But before you send that document to the digital arena, here are a few things to consider:

1. Editing. You are a professional, right? If you were to submit your manuscript to a literary agent or a publisher, you would present the best possible version, yes? Why approach this concept any differently because you’re self-publishing? You can edit your own work, to some extent, although a second opinion may do a better job. Can’t afford a professional? Find another aspiring writer and offer to swap. You’d be surprised what an objective eye can find. Until I employed a professional for the first novel I tried to sell, I had no idea that I’d started my story in the wrong place, had left a few plot threads untied, and had a character or two who could have been easily cut.

2. Proofreading. Ditto points from #1. For your own credibility, try not to do this yourself. After three or four read-throughs, even the best of us start missing little and big mistakes. If you don’t have the budget for a professional proofreader (often NOT the same person who did the editing), find a fellow writer with an eye for detail and propose a swap, or offer to barter for other skills. Just because you can pull down your e-book, revise, and republish rather handily, don’t let that ease make you lazy. Unedited, typo-strewn copies could already be out there, damaging your reputation.

3. Formatting. This can be a HUGE pitfall for the aspiring e-novelist. If you opt for the traditional publishing route, even if that publisher puts your novel out as an e-book, they are responsible for formatting. That means, for instance, new chapters start on a new page, paragraphs are properly indented, time/space breaks are properly spaced, symbols and punctuation are represented accurately, and your table of contents (if you have one) gets linked up correctly. You may be accustomed to checking for typos and grammatical errors, but how many writers think about formatting? (Well, me, but a background in graphic design will do that to a person.) Over several hundred pages of manuscript, formatting can get complicated. And worse, different platforms have different rules. Mess this up, and your e-book can become an irritating read. Fortunately, most of the major platforms know this. Amazon has a decent tutorial. Smashwords will even let you download a free e-book on how to format your manuscript to be compatible with their word-cruncher-uploader-doohickie that spits out proper file formats for different devices. Again, you can go through the learning curve if you feel inspired, or if you’d rather focus your energy elsewhere, outsource it.

4. Cover design. A cover alone may not sell a book, but a good one definitely helps. A dull design can get you passed over, and an inappropriate design might make a reader feel deceived. Again, here’s a place where you’ll want a professional. You definitely get what you pay for in this department.

5. Title. Consider your working title. Because you know your traditional publisher will. Does it suit the work? Is it too commonly used? Ask your writing and reading friends what they think of your intended title. Also, try Googling it. You can’t copyright a title, but you can make sure it’s not already in use for a book in your genre.

6. Read the fine print. Know what you’re getting into before you publish. Some platforms reserve the right to yank your content if they don’t think it’s “fit” for public consumption. Some reserve the right to re-price it at their discretion, or even offer it for free during certain promotions.

Finally, be prepared to market your ass off. But that’s a topic for another blog.

Are you planning to e-book it? Already a pro? Let’s talk…

(Photo courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti)

More Reasons Why I Hate Your Website

A while back, I wrote a post about irritating website features. I’ve just done another round of heavy Internet research, and ran into more disturbing trends–not as much in the data, but in the execution. Maybe these features sounded like a good idea when you planned your website, but consider their effect on the user. Or at least on this user. Here are six more reasons why I hate your website:

1. Slideshows. Oh, how I hate slideshows. When I’m doing research, I’m on the clock. I want my information and I want it quickly. If I’m writing an article on cooking with insects, I don’t want to manually scroll through 45 separate windows containing a paragraph each on different ways to serve Madagascar hissing cockroaches. This makes me not only want to leave your site and never return, but write you a nasty letter demanding a refund for all the time I wasted going through all those slides. Yes, they can be fun and entertaining. But please, either limit your slideshows to ten panes or offer the information in a quick list form.

2. Save your surveys. Imagine that I’ve just arrived at your home page. I’m quickly scanning the information, looking for what I need. I find the right link, and just before I’m about to click on it–Bam! The entire window fills with an invitation to take your survey. I am not happy. I don’t know you, you’ve done nothing for me, but you’re asking me how I like your business. If I approached a brick-and-mortar establishment, and a salesperson stopped me as I was opening the door to ask what they could have done to improve my shopping experience, I’d wonder what she’d been imbibing during lunch break. If you have given me information, for instance, if I’ve downloaded something or signed up for your newsletter, if I’d spent a lot of time on the site or was a returning customer, then I’d consider your survey invitation more seriously. Otherwise, keep it to yourself. New Balance’s website, shopnewbalance.com, has this down to a science. They wait until you’ve bought a product to ask for your comments.

3. Readability, people! I was recently sent an HTML e-mail chock full of links. It was for something that I really wanted: a fun-filled day at ComicCon as a reward for attending a trade show last year. Unfortunately, these links were dark blue on a black background. I couldn’t even read them to figure out what I wanted to click on. Prevent this from happening by sending a preview of your HTML e-mails to someone over 40 before you blast them to your entire database.

4. The geek factor. Now, I love geeks. I am 70% geek, by my estimation. Even if your website was designed by your IT department, don’t make it look that way. Dead giveaways? Type that runs all the way to the edge of the windows. Lots of charts. Too many fonts and no apparent thought as to their alignment. More attention given to navigation than design. For the best combination of user appeal and user friendliness, your site should be designed by an artist who has been trained to create websites, rather than a technologist who has been trained to create art.

5. No means no.  Unless I’ve experienced a power failure, leaving your website requires a decision and a physical action. When, upon deciding to leave, various windows keep opening imploring that I reconsider my decision to go elsewhere, it smacks of desperation. I’ve made my mind up. Leave me alone. Okay, maybe I’ll tolerate one reminder in case I’ve accidentally closed the window. After all, my software says, “Are you sure?” to my decisions throughout the day, so I’m accustomed to one bit of nagging. But that’s all. I mean it. Don’t make me come down there.

6. Proofread. Just because you can make changes to your website any time you wish does not excuse you from throwing it up there full of grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. We’re all human (gasp, even me!) and we all make mistakes. But when the errors are excessive or unfortunate—for example, “pubic” when you meant to write “public” (yes, I’ve seen this, in an e-book)—it makes your pages unreadable and seriously undermines your credibility. If proofreading isn’t your thing, hire a professional. Otherwise, I’ll be navigating somewhere else.

What are you seeing lately on the web that ticks you off? Anything going on that you especially like? Let’s talk!

Why You Should NEVER Trust Your Spell-Checker

It’s all Maria Mariana’s fault. She was one in a group of six linguists from Georgetown University who, back in the 70s, first developed an automated way to check spelling and grammar on word processing programs for IBM. Perhaps, though, she meant well. Thought it would be a good thing to create this seductive monster that can batch-attack the often time-consuming and ponderous human task of checking one’s work for errors.

Backfire, Maria. Semi-total epic FAIL! Spell-check has made us lazy. It has lulled us into a false sense of security with its offers to change your grammar or correct that questionable word. We all have stories of spell-checking failure, some with embarrassing and humorous results. Here are a few more reasons you should never trust that pathetic plug-in with your important work.

1. Spell-checkers are notoriously obtuse. Consider the following passage:

My physical therapist worked out a weight-bearing routine for me that stimulates my osteoblasts, which are the cells that build new bone.

The spelling and grammar checker in my version of Microsoft Word wants to replace “stimulate” for “stimulates.” It believes that the subject that is being stimulated is plural…actually, I have no plucking idea what it believes. It’s just wrong.

2. Spell-checkers can’t parse your intentions. Like this one:

“Pete’s working again.”

Spell-check suggestions for this alleged error in “subject-verb agreement” include “Pete’s is working” or “Pete’s was working.” The writer’s intention was to state that Pete is once again gainfully employed. But good old SC doesn’t know this, and assumes that something of Pete’s is now or formerly was functional.

3. Spell-checkers can’t find missing words. “Ted raced the sink” has a rather different meaning than “Ted raced to the sink.” In a long document, particularly one you’ve been poring over draft after draft, your brain will supply the missing word. So, you may miss it in the proofreading and lead your readers to believe Ted has been imbibing and sincerely believes he and the sink are in competition.

4. Spell-checkers can auto-correct you into situations in which you do not want to be auto-corrected. A former colleague, who normally relied upon his assistant to correct and send out his correspondence, decided to give her a break and take care of some of his own. In an e-mail that went out to the entire sales staff, he intended to ask for their opinions on a new sales program. He ended with, “I look forward to seeing your evaluation.” Only, because of his less-than-stellar keyboarding skills, his spell-check program decided he meant to type “ejaculation.” Yeah. It went out that way.

5. Spell-checkers won’t tell you if your formatting is inconsistent. This is one reason why you should never abandon something as format-dependent as your resume solely to the eye-chips of your computer program. It won’t tell you that you’ve ended some bullet-text items with periods and left them off others. It won’t tell you a heading is in the wrong font or tabbed in too far. These sorts of things are CRUCIAL to swing by your own eyeballs, especially if the job you desire has anything to do with attention to detail.

6. Spell-checkers don’t measure up to humans…at least not yet. Flawed as we are, we’re still better than machines at certain tasks, like knowing what we meant to say. Don’t have time to proofread or can’t tell if your participles are dangling? Hire a human.

Have any good spell-checking horror stories?

Fighting for Reviewer’s Eyeballs

I’ve read enough and talked to enough other authors to know that once you sign your publication contract, everything doesn’t magically become wonderful, or easy. True, there have been wonderful moments: finalizing the manuscript, seeing the art for my cover, and having two giant boxes of review copies deposited at my front door.

Now the hard work begins. First, to identify appropriate reviewers, and convince these very busy professionals that my novel is worth 234 pages of their time. You think you’re busy? Some of these people receive thousands of inquiries each month for reviews, and have backlogs of hundreds of books waiting for them, for when a free moment or two pops up. Add the usual challenges of life, the day jobs some of these people have in addition to the websites they maintain.

It makes me understand why some are so quick with the thumbs up or down. I just have to figure out how to cut through the pile, with a pitch that’s pitch perfect but not too over-the-top. Ideally, all of this should fit on one page. It almost makes me miss those frustrating, hair-pulling days of writing draft upon draft of the original synopsis.

Through trial and error, though, I’m discovering what gets reviewers’ eyeballs and what is just noise. Here’s what I’ve learned so far about writing reviewer pitches:

1. Proofread, proofread, proofread. Then get someone else to proofread. As Writing 101 as this sounds, it still applies. It’s often the first thing a busy reviewer will see about you. Typos in the address block? Missing words? Eye-rolling grammatical errors? It all counts, and it could count against you. You don’t want to give the reviewer the impression that your book could also be full of typos–how ponderous would that be to read? Especially critical are errors in contact information, because you are accustomed to seeing that information in all of your correspondence and thereby stop seeing it. I almost sent out six valuable review copies along with a set of letters that did not contain the correct area code. D’oh! But this turned out to be a good thing. It gave me an opportunity, while I was correcting the phone number, to fine-tune a pitch that seemed a little flabby.

2. Do your homework. Think like a busy reviewer. It’s Saturday morning, your parents are watching the kids, you’ve got a pot of coffee on, and you’re shuffling through a mountain of review packages that have been piling up in your office. You only have a minute or two to decide up or down on each one. Do you want to review that 400-page zombie western? Or a 250-page romance novel? Oops…you don’t do romance. And the author would have known that if she had checked the reviewer’s submission guidelines. Just like when you were selling your novel to agents and publishers for the first time, submission guidelines still rule.

3. Make it easy for them. Put everything they need for a quick decision up front: title of the book, genre, release date, publisher, number of pages. This way, he or she will know if this work is in their wheelhouse, and if they will have enough time to read it and write a review in a timely enough way to meet both of your needs. After that, include a well-crafted blurb about the book. This might be the same kind of copy you put in an ad or on the book jacket (assuming your book has a book jacket.) Don’t forget to include, probably at the end, a bit about you, where the book will be sold, and relevant web pages (like your publisher’s online catalog and the page on your website where they can read an excerpt.)

4. Manage your rejection. You thought all that rejection ended when you got an agent or publisher to say yes? Not so fast. Remember that bit about the really busy reviewers? Yes, they might reject you, too, and it probably has nothing to do with the quality of your book. It could merely be that they have too many books to review that month. Or, they just posted two apocalyptic zombie novels in a row on their website and including yours would turn them into a niche reviewer. Cry if you need to (I pass no judgment) but don’t let the rejection stop you. Somewhere out there are reviewers who will love you, or at the very least, agreed to read you.

Most importantly, know that the author/reviewer relationship is symbiotic. No, the reviewer doesn’t stand to make immediate buckage taking on your book (unless you choose a reviewer who charges for reviews, a practice I’ll tackle in a future blog.) Some do it for the sheer love of reading and support for authors. They also do it to get good web content to attract more visitors and therefore make some money from their websites. So if you adjust your thinking and work with your potential reviewers instead of against them, it could turn a worrisome task into an adventure. Continue reading

Have You Hugged Your Proofreader Today?

Every glamorous profession requires its share of trench workers. For every Kate Moss wannabe strutting down the catwalk during Fashion Week, there are dozens of people toiling away behind the curtain to make sure she doesn’t fall on her pretty face. For every Lady Gaga kicking butt and wearing meat on tour, there are legions of roadies, carpenters, lighting designers, costumers, drivers, and caterers making sure everything goes right and everything ends up in the right venue.

In publishing-although some segments are more glamorous than others-one of the most unsung heroes is the proofreader. Writers write their dreams, literary agents and editors help turn them into novels, but if the proofreader slacks at his or her job, a book becomes difficult and sometimes impossible to read.

But maybe you think proofreading is an easy gig. You’ll get to read all day, right? While proofreaders do get to read their projects (one hopes, anyway), it’s not really reading. It’s scanning; it’s analyzing. It’s akin to taking a Renoir and teasing it apart into brushstrokes, color, and light. Still, for every masterpiece, you’ll get an apprentice’s first project. For every New York Times bestseller, you’ll get a dozen textbooks, legal briefs, or reference manuals. You might get projects so dull, you’ll be fighting sleep in your chair. Which, if you work from home, may not be so terrible, but in an office, is not your supervisor’s preferred way for you to spend your time.

Proofreading is hard, physical work. Imagine spending your entire day, day after day, combing through manuscripts line by line, word by word, hunting for misspellings and missing words, when our human eye is trained to take in chunks of words and therefore skip over missing words and misspellings! Even if your posture and ergonomic set up are perfect, our spines were not designed to be sat upon for hours, our bodies were not meant to be still for such long stretches, and our eyes – especially the eyes of someone over forty – do not like maintaining a constant focus. Many proofreaders develop chronic neck, shoulder, and upper back problems. Now that many proofreaders have abandoned hard copies and red pens for the seeming ease of the computer, the strain just moves to other parts of their bodies. Eyes, in particular, don’t like hours of staring at monitors that reflect light, which was a problem e-reader manufacturers had to contend with in their earliest stages. Scientific eye studies show that we blink less when we look at a monitor, so those who proofread at the computer can end up with dry, stinging eyes.

So next time you dive into a book that reads like smooth, single-malt Scotch, thank the author, the editor, the agent, and the publisher, but don’t forget to thank the proofreader. Preferably with a shoulder massage and a bottle of eye drops.

Who are the unsung heroes in your profession?

(PS: One of my goals for 2011 is to blog more. Rather than just fretting about it or making endless attempts at first paragraphs that go nowhere, I’m starting right now. I will be posting on this blog as daily as possible for all of this coming year.

I know it won’t be easy, and some posts might plain suck, but it might be fun, inspiring, awesome and wonderful. Therefore I’m promising to make use of The DailyPost, and the community of other bloggers with similiar goals, to help me along the way, including (gasp) asking for help when I need it and encouraging others when I can.

If you already read my blog, I hope you’ll encourage me with comments and likes, and good will along the way.)